Campus Martius, The Heart The City
“Nature has destined the city of Detroit to be a great interior emporium, equal if not superior, to any other on the surface of the terraqueous globe.” — Augustus Woodward, First Chief Justice of the Michigan Territory
It was a bold prediction. At the time Detroit was a distant frontier outpost populated by fewer than a thousand soldiers and roughnecks, fur trappers and farmers. Following a catastrophic fire in 1805 that literally burned the city to the ground, Detroit was a long way from the economic powerhouse that Augustus Woodward1 imagined. But the tragedy was a catalyst for opportunity. Rising from the embers Woodward proposed what Cornell University professor John Reps called “one of the most unusual attempts at city planning in our nation’s history.”
Woodward’s new urban plan borrowed from grand European cities. He laid out broad avenues in a radial geometry emanating from Grand Circus Park.2 Surveying equipment was set up in Campus Martius to establish the Point of Origin for all that Detroit would become. The survey would also create Detroit’s unique coordinate system of roads (e.g., 8 Mile Rd. is exactly eight miles north of the Point of Origin) that would help the rise of Detroit’s automobile landscape.
Incredibly the original 6-foot granite stone3 that marked the Point of Origin was unearthed during the reconstruction of Campus Martius Park in 2004. Today it can be seen in its original location beneath a glass and bronze medallion embedded in the ground near the entrance to the restaurant on the west side of the park.4
Woodward’s story goes to the heart of Detroit’s unique character. Skeptics at the time didn’t share his vision and little of his grand plan came to be once he returned east. But his is a story of tenacity and determined optimism. And it’s that never-say-die, entrepreneurial spirit that is a part of Detroit’s DNA. Proof that cool things have always happened in Detroit.
Hot Spots: Art in Campus Martius
Several important public artworks can be found in the Park and surrounding area. At the south end of the Park the Michigan Soldiers & Sailors Monument6 is a Civil War era tribute created by Randolph Rogers that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A bit further south on Woodward Ave. is the 26-foot tall bronze Spirit of Detroit7, a Marshall Fredericks masterpiece. Nearby is the Monument to Joe Louis8, more commonly referred to as The Fist. This Robert Graham sculpture honors Joe Louis’ fight against racial injustice. Detroit’s newest standout is Waiting9 by famed street artist Kaws. This 17-foot cast bronze statue, finished in a jet-black patina can be seen at the north end of Campus Martius. Discover more outstanding public artworks at Crains Guide: Where The Art Is.